The End of Relationship Selling

I am not going to sugarcoat this, and I am not going to be polite.

All of this talk about the end of relationship selling is pure, unadulterated hogwash. While those that declare relationship selling to be dead shout louder, ignore their words. They couldn’t be more wrong.

You will hurt yourself and your sales by believing and acting on this horrid and horrible idea. Relationships are an essential part of winning an opportunity. They are also the biggest part of retaining your clients.

Where the Critics Are Right (and Wrong)

There are two reasons that the critics bash relationship selling.

The first reason critics bash relationship selling is that too many sales people believe that a warm, friendly relationship is enough to win and sustain client relationships. The critics are correct; it isn’t enough. Your relationship must be built on the firm foundation of your ability to continually create value for your client.

The critics mistakenly suggest that relationships and value creation are mutually exclusive. Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that the stronger your relationship, the greater the likelihood that you will be trusted to sell the ideas that create value, especially the big ideas that lead your client.

The second reason the critics are crooked on relationships is because so many salespeople avoid the necessary conflict that accompanies selling. These salespeople are conflict averse. And again the critics are correct.

But the critics of relationship selling make the mistake of believing that a warm relationship and an ability to deal effectively with conflict are mutually exclusive, that they can’t exist in the same body at the same time. But relationships and conflict aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, a strong relationship improves the odds of a conflict being successfully resolved. Wouldn’t you want a strong relationship going into a conflict? Wouldn’t you want to have a relationship that could withstand a nasty issue?

What Is and What Isn’t a Relationship

A personal friendship is a surely a relationship, but it doesn’t rise to the level of an effective sales relationship. Your warm, friendly, personal relationship must be coupled with an equal or greater amount of value creation.

If your personal relationship means that you can’t effectively manage the conflicts that accompany selling, then you don’t have an effective sales relationship. One who can’t deal with conflict in sales is an order-taker.

An effective selling relationship is personal, professional, value creating, and built on trust. If you would be a trusted advisor, you are going to have to deal with conflict, and you are going to have to have the relationships to withstand those conflicts. If you are going to be a Level Four Value Creator, you are going to need the relationships that allow you to act as part of your client’s management team, and your clients don’t want people on their team with whom they don’t have great relationships.

You can make a lot of mistakes and still win in sales. Believing that you can go without relationships isn’t one of them. In a time when so many people are behaving like sales is transactional, swim against the current and build the deep relationships that success is built on.

All things being equal, relationships win. All things being unequal, relationships still probably win.


Are your relationships important to selling effectively?

Can you have a personal, warm, friendly relationship with your client and still sell effectively? Can you have that relationship and still create value?

Do your relationships enable you to effectively deal with conflict, or do they cause you to avoid conflict?

At the time of your dream client’s decision, would you rather have a strong personal and professional relationship, or would you rather just try to sell the value you create?

Have you ever lost a deal that you should have won because your competitor had the relationship? Have you ever won a deal that you should have lost because your competitor had a strong relationship?


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